Review: Stadium Rocks – Cwmbran Stadium

A mini festival at a stadium in October? Must be mad! It will be freezing (and, as it is Wales, wet!). That was my first thought when I heard about Skindred headlining a mini festival – ‘Stadium Rocks’, at Cwmbran Stadium at the end of October. It turned out that Torfaen Leisure Trust knew exactly what they were doing, turning a huge sports hall into a fantastic temporary venue, complete with a spacious stage, lighting rig, sound system, bar and even food outlets.

Tribeless, StADIUM rOCKSWelcoming the thousand plus attendees were South Walian youngsters Tribeless. Featuring Lydia McDonald on vocals, Latif Bryant on guitar and Max Rhead on drums their sound was incredibly intricate and complex. Many punters were still arriving but you could see them hurrying down the corridor into the arena to see who was sending out waves of harmony and power. “Angels” in particular, with its staccato drum intro followed by a crashing riff, harmonic vocals and anthemic chorus stood out as a bit of a cracker.

Fallen Temples, Stadium RocksThe planned fifteen minute turn around between each band proved a mite optimistic as second band on, Fallen Temples had to play an economic version of their planned set due to a delayed start. Another South Wales three piece, but with a very different sound. Less complex but heavier and with a powerful groove. Bassist Joe Lewis and guitarist/singer Adam Vaughan showed how to fill a stage whilst behind them drummer Joe Stirland drove each song forward with powerful stick work. “Cut the Wire” has an immense opening riff that gets every head bobbing. “Touching the Void” has a rich swing to it and “Adrenaline” is definitely worth more than a cursory listen.

Who Knows Didley, Stadium RocksI caught Who Knows Didley at Full Rock Club a while back, just after they had started playing together again and thoroughly enjoyed their set. Tonight, on a bigger stage, they get to strut their stuff to full effect. Frontman Paul Matthews is a born performer. Shoeless and extrovert, he prowls around twirling the microphone stand. Beside him guitarist Gareth Allford plays a mean lick and goes through a variety of expressive grimaces whilst bassist Glyn Mason and drummer Craig Willmott provide a structure to anchor their fun and games. If the crowd hadn’t woken up yet they had no choice whilst WKD were on stage. Songs such as “All Your Wishing”, “20 Kilo Suitcase” and “Girl Say to Me” from album “Mindless Suburbia” all bringing a Motley Crue-esque, Californian vibe to a cold Welsh afternoon.

Tigress, Stadium RocksOn an almost all Welsh bill, Tigress, from Chelmsford, had certainly made the longest journey. An order of magnitude bigger than the previous three bands (off the back of supporting Bring me the Horizon and Enter Shikari this summer) they certainly impressed with a classy set and show. Led by Katy Jackson, a lady with some considerable vocal talent, their sound was immense. Two guitarists constantly swapping lead lines and a rhythm section that provided a deliciously complex beat. Every one of their songs swirled around the arena. Massive soundscapes that were mature and constantly varying. I was unable to snap a setlist, but you won’t go wrong taking a listen to “Alive”, “Bring Me Down” or “Teardrop” if you would like an introduction to some classy songwriting.

Those Damn Crows, Stadium RocksSuddenly the arena filled with bodies and a palpable air of anticipation crackled through the air. Those Damn Crows are making waves. Big waves. I suspect for many here tonight they were as much a draw as the headliners. They really do stand on the brink of something massive. Personnel wise, Shane Greenhall was put on the planet to perform. He doesn’t stop smiling from the moment he tells the crowd that “We. Are.Those.Damn.Crow-ows” and rips into one of several new tracks “Who Did it”. Bassist Lloyd Wood is all swirling hair and grin. Guitarists “Shiner” and David Winchurch either side of them rip out riff after riff effortlessly and behind them all, the only drummer I have heard get chanted onto the stage every gig I have seen the band, Ronnie Huxford.

“The Fighter” is up next, followed by “Behind These Walls” (not singing along impossible) and “Don’t Give a Damn”. Another new track “Set in Stone” shows that if anything The Crows songwriting is getting even stronger. “Fear of the Broken” and “Someone Someday” keep the crowd in ecstasy before what is now the highlight of a Crow set as Shane takes to the piano for “Blink of an Eye”. The evolution of this song from its original guitar based ballad to its current incarnation mirrors that of the band. Now it is a stadium demolishing classic. Add to that a Welsh choir singing every word and it truly is the highlight of any Crow performance. “Longtime Dead” and “Breakaway” rush us onwards until the set closer “Rock ’N” Roll Aint Dead”. Another song that graces any radio station playlist.

SkindredA final short break and “Thunderstruck” blasts out from the speakers, followed by “The Imperial March” and Skindred take to the stage. Benji oddly dressed down in jeans and a hoodie pulled over his face! Only it isn’t Benji and with a massive grin he wanders on stage in very much the sort of outfit we all expect. I love Skindred. I think I have seen them more than any other band and would say that I am a huge fan of their totally individual style. This is a home gig of course and they play to their guest list almost as much as the bigger crowd, even having a sandwich eating contest to celebrate a birthday amongst other madness.

All the big Skindred numbers are in there. “Pressure”, “Rat Race”, “Ninja”, “Kill the Power”, “Nobody” and of course “Warning” to close out the night complete with “Newport Helicopter”. Benji works the crowd between every song. Mikey Demus is possibly the most active I have seen him on a stage and Dan Pugsley and Arya Goggin rip the roof off the hall with their powerful rhythm. There is also shade to the light. I still find “Saying it Now” a very emotional song and the contrast it presents to all the chaos is a masterful piece of setlist planning as it stops you in your tracks and makes you really listen.

Six bands, a great price, a superbly organised event, good beer, tasty food and a good turn out. Huge congratulations to the team at Torfaen Leisure Trust for being so forward thinking. The question was asked whether they should look at “Stadium Rocks 2”? They flipping well better had!

Review and images – Rob Wilkins 

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